Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

July 5, 2013

Commissioners expected to call for public vote on courthouse restoration

By Bob Belcher
Corsicana Daily Sun

Corsicana — Navarro County voters will decide whether the courthouse will be restored.

Navarro County Commissioners are expected to vote Monday to change the proposed funding of the project from Certificates of Obligation to General Revenue bonds — a bond that requires voter approval in November.

And that’s a move that the Texas Historical Commission is on board with, said County Judge H.M. Davenport Jr.

Davenport said Friday a review of the project by the county’s bond lawyer prompted the change in direction.

As late as Monday of this week, the county had based its planning for obtaining funding to pay for its share of the project through the issue of Certificates of Obligation, a method that does not require a vote of the public, but rather a majority vote of the commissioners court.

However, with a certificate issue comes a myriad of rules that govern what expenses can be paid for with proceeds from such a sale, and that is where the attorney’s advice came into play, said Davenport.

“Given our particular situation ... it gives us a better opportunity to fund it through bonds than what we would have been able to do through Certificates of Obligation,” Davenport said.

Davenport also said any tax increase as a result of the bond sales would be lower than it would have been with a Certificate of Obligation.

“It will improve our financing ability by going with general obligation bonds, considering our situation,” Davenport added.

Davenport told commissioners at the July 1 meeting the Texas Historical Commission would pull the county’s grant if it changed funding methods. Subsequent communication with the THC now indicates the agency will work with the county with whatever funding method it chooses. Davenport will appear before the THC board later this month to discuss the county’s decision to seek general obligation bonds instead.

What commissioners still don’t know is exactly how much money they’ll be asking for in a bond issue, on top of the existing state grant from the Texas Historical Commission. The last figure discussed publicly was an estimate by the project’s architect, Karalei Nunn of 1113 Architects, estimating the total cost at just over $10.6 million, plus the cost of an annex building the county will need going forward. That number is not final, though, as the county is still conducting a survey of existing inventory within the building, and isn’t sure what may need to be replaced when returning to a restored courthouse.

“There will still be some things to be figured in,” Davenport said.

Davenport said the low bidder for the restoration work has verbally informed the county it will stick by its bid of $8.86 million for the work through Dec. 1, well past the November election date.

The general obligation bond method also eliminates the need for a petition drive.

Pct. 4 Commissioner James Olsen said at the July 1 special meeting he believed the public should vote on the restoration project — that will now happen.

“I’m very excited about the fact the people can decide in November,” Olsen said Friday. He said he looked forward to learning more about the proposed change in funding at Monday’s meeting.

Olsen said he had heard numerous concerns about the public’s ability to weigh in on the issue, and didn’t think voters should have to go through a petition process to force a vote on the project.

“Public input always has some effect on us because we listen to the public,” Davenport said. “Was it pressure — no,” adding that had the county known at the outset what funding issues it is facing now, the general obligation bond would have been the course chosen.

Pct. 2 Commissioner Dick Martin agreed the change is in the county’s best interest.

“All along, I have really felt it would be helpful for the community to be able to weigh in on this,” Martin said. “Early on, the advice we were getting was to use the (Certificates of Obligation),” he said. “Then it turns out (general obligation bonds) are the only avenue that really works out for the entire project.” Martin said the THC’s stance on working with the county on the grant makes it a “win-win.”

Jason Grant, new to the commissioners court this year, also favored the move, including a vote of the public.

“I’m glad that its going before the voters, because I believe anytime you spend that kind of money, you need more than five people making the decision,” Grant said. “I’m real happy about it.”

Pct. 3’s Butch Warren agreed that the change has opened up the issue to head to the ballot box.

“I’m in favor of letting the public have a bond election on it,” Warren said.

Also on the commissioner’s Monday agenda:

• Consent agenda, including minutes of previous meetings, payment of bills, budget transfers, and surplus status for items from Sheriff’s Office.

• Consideration of burn ban.

• Presentation on 2012 Combined Annual Financial Report.

• Presentation of Distinguished Service Award for 2012 from Texas Historical Commission presented to the Navarro County Historical Commission.

• Tax collection report by Russell Hudson.

• County auditor’s report by Kathy Hollomon.

• Independent contractor’s agreement between HIDTA and Ruth Howe.

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Bob Belcher may be reached by email at bbelcher@corsicanadailysun.com. Want to “Soundoff” on this story? Email: soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com